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Fukushima Fallout
Safety of nuclear power plants being upgraded: AEC chief
Act to have a new independent regulatory authority being introduced in Parliament
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 18
Three months after Fukushima, now regarded as among the world’s worst nuclear incidents, India has just completed a major safety review of its 20 operating nuclear power plants that generate 5,000 MW daily. In all these plants, steps are being taken to augment its backup power supply and inventory of water storage apart from putting up tsunami protection walls and mini-wave breakers to prevent a Fukushima like incident from occurring.

“Our record of nuclear safety has so far been impeccable and we have taken steps after Fukushima to ensure that it remains so,” Dr Srikumar Banerjee, Chairman, Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), told Raj Chengappa, Editor-in-Chief, The Tribune Group of Newspapers, in an exclusive interview at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Trombay. Banerjee stated that measures are being taken to ensure that all future nuclear plants have advanced safety measures to avoid a Fukushima like incident from occurring.

In March this year, a major earthquake measuring over 9 on the Richter scale had struck the Japanese coast resulting in a towering tsunami that swamped the Fukushima nuclear complex apart from causing widespread death and destruction. It resulted in a total power black-out in the complex that saw engineers unable to pump water to cool the reactors. That saw the heat getting out of control resulting in a series of explosions that blew the reactors containment buildings and saw the reactor cores experiencing a partial meltdown. There was also radioactive leak that threatened citizens around the complex and some parts of Japan.

In the interview to The Tribune, the AEC chief revealed that an intensive review was done of all the existing nuclear plants by the Nuclear Power Corporation (NPC), the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) and BARC. After getting the opinions from all these institutions the NPC was in the process of implementing the recommendations. Among the measures suggested and already have been implemented is providing mobile diesel generation units as an additional back up for power plants. The access roads to each of these plants were reviewed and expanded wherever necessary. “The focus was particularly on redundancy in back-up power supply and augmenting water supply for cooling to take out excess heat if required,” Banerjee said.

Responding to criticism that the AERB, the country’s premier nuclear safety board, is far from independent as it has to report to the Atomic Energy Commission, Banerjee said that the Prime Minister has already announced the setting up of an independent nuclear regulatory authority. He told The Tribune: “I am not saying that the AERB is not independent; it is independent. But the AERB is created by an executive order. Now it is important that it should get a statutory status-that it is formed by an Act of Parliament. The Prime Minister has announced that a new Act would be introduced in the forthcoming monsoon session to facilitate this.”

Banerjee revealed that the Department of Atomic Energy is working on the draft of the Act that will ensure that the new regulatory body would be independent of the Atomic Energy Commission. He said: “It is an important step because apart from the legal status, it will be broadening its activity and can receive technical support from different organisations. Its activities will be transparent. We have nothing to hide. Let it be out in the open.”





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